Collision Hours

About this time last year I found myself, a bit unexpectedly, in a large ball room in Santa Monica. On stage, was Tony Hsieh, of Zappos fame, recounting his story of building Zappos, his new book and his much publicized Downtown Project. Like most in the audience, I’d heard plenty about each; however, as he neared the end of his presentation on what he’s trying to build in Vegas, he struck on a principle that I’ve not been able to shake since.

The idea was a simple one. So simple, in fact, that many of us who live in or have spent time tech hubs like San Francisco, Palo Alto or New York City often take this idea for granted. 

The idea is called “collision hours” and Tony posits that the success of the downtown project hangs on creating spaces to maximize “collisionable” hours.

What is a collision you may be asking? It’s simply colliding with new people and ideas. Sharing your own and being open to others. It’s unfiltered serendipity. Stepping onto the street, or into the cafe, or into the conference and making an effort to collide with as many people and ideas in a designated timeframe. And being open to the possibilities and changes of course that collisions often enact.

These collisions have become so central to the project that Tony and his team have a formula around which decisions for downtown Vegas are based. From Gizmodo:

So the Downtown Project is instead looking at residents, employees, and regular visitors (they call them “subscribers”) to contribute 1000 annual “collisionable hours:” three to four hours per day of a person walking around/eating at a cafe/drinking at a bar, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year (3 x 7 x 52 = 1092 hours). This can help the area achieve its goal of 100,000 collisionable hours per acre per year, or, as Schaefer broke it down further, 2.3 collisionable hours per square foot per year.

They measure possible collision hours by the foot!

Given the centrality of collision hours to the thesis of the downtown project, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I open myself up to possible collisions and recognizing them more when they occur.  

I’ve noticed that when I’m traveling in the bay area, London or NYC, they’re happening in both coordinated and unintended ways. Walking through Soho or SOMA, it’s very natural to bump into 3 or 4 people I haven’t see in a while. Last week in SF, I arrived early to my dinner at Alta and bumped into 3 people I hadn’t seen in ages at the bar. On the walk back to my hotel that night, I ran into an old friend on the street and we caught up for 15-20 min on our latest projects. These were collision hours and they happen more naturally in certain cities than others. 

The cities that these collisions happen more naturally in are also the cities that are thriving in the midst of global downturn. 

Starting to see why Tony views them as so central to the success of his project?

In my office in SLC, collisions don’t happen as freely. So, I have a reminder on a whiteboard hanging in front of my desk with a space for me to write the names of 5 people. Each day that I’m working out of my SLC office I realize that I can’t collide on the street, but I can make collisions with new people or contacts that aren’t part of my daily work flow. Often these collisions can happen with a simple email. But, occasionally they come via a phone call, text message or skype chat. 

Whether in person, or online, the idea of collisions and creating collisionable hours throughout the day, month or year is a powerful concept and one that I’m trying to embody more and more.

When I look back on my career there are a series of key collisions that have opened door to entrepreneurial opportunities and future investments. I’e always seen them as such, but didn’t have a term that captured what they meant to me and how to quantify them until I was sitting in that ballroom listening to Tony that day.

Now, I can’t shake the concept and I’m creating more space for collisions to occur. Great careers and communities can be boiled down to collisions. It’s worth creating the hours to see where some of them might take you.